Capital District Call To Action together with the Inclusive Catholic Community of Albany Celebrated a Prayer Service in honor of the Feast of Mary Magdalene on Sunday evening June 1, 2014 at the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary, College of St. Rose, Albany, NY. Forty five people attended this service of music and prayer to proclaim the message of Mary Magdalene during the Easter Season.
The Table of Honor coordinated by Margaret Dilgen offered a display of themes of the life of Mary Magdalene and also featured an Icon of Mary Magdalene by Dalia Herring.
Debbie Trees, our service leader, welcomes us to the life-giving symbol of water and invites us to come forward to draw from that source.
Mary Theresa Streck delivered the homily.
Homily for the Feast of Mary of Magdala
I want to begin by thanking our hosts for the invitation to give the reflection tonight. I also want to begin by acknowledging that most of what I have to say is a blending of thoughts of two significant theologians within the Catholic Church, Sister Joan Chittister and Hans Kung.
In her book, A Passion for Life, Fragments of the Face of God, Sister Joan devotes a section to Mary of Magdala, providing a historical glimpse into the life of the woman referred to as the apostle to the apostles.
In his book, The Catholic Church, a short history, Hans Kung describes the early community of believers, those who followed Jesus, and committed themselves to him and to his cause. Mary of Magdala, along with a number of men and women, were the first to join Jesus in a kinship community and it is to this type of community and its structure that I believe we need to return as we renew and revitalize our church.
So I will begin with Kung’s account of the early community. The community was committed to the teachings and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus who…
- did not proclaim a church, (he was Jewish and was about reforming Jewish practice from within)
- did not proclaim himself (he was a servant leader), but he did proclaim the kingdom of God as here and now.
- And he called for the fulfillment of the commandments of the Old Testament in commitment to one’s neighbor through benevolent love.
The followers of Jesus believed in his core message – love God, love your neighbor and live the beatitudes. There weren’t a lot of rules and regulations. They were not Christians – they were observant Jews who heard the sometimes-radical message of Jesus and even though it was in conflict with their cultural religion, they knew the message to be true. This was a very brave position for a small band of followers who were probably ostracized by their local hierarchy and who were eventually excommunicated in Antioch from the synagogue.
And there, in the midst of this radical band of men and women believers, was Mary of Magdala, traveling with Jesus and tending to the community…
As I was preparing this homily, I was trying to imagine what it was like to be in that early community of believers. I’m sure it was somewhat similar to the gatherings we are now experiencing in our small house churches. We study scripture and we talk about how it is relevant to our lives today. We question and challenge each other about what it all means. We talk about the injustices in the church and how we can live a new model. We talk about the consequences of living a new model and the consequences if we don’t. We care about one another and inquire about what is happening in our families and our jobs….and we always share food together. Our hearts are burning within us as we meet and the joy follows us long after we disperse.
I imaging that the first community of believers was very similar. It was from their experience with this Jesus, conduit of God’s love, luminous soul, face of the Living God, that their hearts began to burn within them.
According to Hans Kung, membership in the post resurrection community was very simple and the disciples understood that they had within their local communities all that they needed for human salvation: (1) The message of Jesus to proclaim, (2) baptism in the name of Jesus as a rite of initiation, (3) the celebration of a meal in grateful remembrance, and (4) the recognition and commissioning of various gifts and ministries of each member within the community.
That’s it. All the rest of the church trappings were added much later in the Church’s history. In the first kinship community, there was no hierarchal, patriarchal structure. No relationship of domination. Instead, in earliest Christianity, a term was used for which Jesus himself set the standard when he said, “Let the leader become one who serves” (Lk. 22,26). The disciples understood that the purpose of the community was primarily for service and the well-being of all. This kinship of women and men disciples became a community practicing social solidarity: openness to the poor, the wretched, the desperate, those who were discriminated against and outcast.
This was the community in which Mary of Magdala played a central leadership role. And, I would like to conclude by focusing on Mary of Magdala, both then, in that early community, and now, as an icon for the 21st century.
Sister Joan Chittister writes of Mary:
Scripture is very clear. In the early community, Mary of Magdala is a new kind of woman completely. She is the one who becomes the first woman minister, who risks her status in both synagogue and society for the sake of her faith in Jesus who had confounded both the synagogue and society.
Mary of Magdala is the witness who recognizes Jesus in his earliest moments and stays with him to the end. She is a leader among women and a person to be reckoned with by men.
Mary of Magdala is the woman who becomes companion and friend to Jesus and who stands beside him all the way the cross.
Mary of Magdala is the woman who is sent by Jesus to be the disciple of the resurrection to the disciples who had missed it. She is indeed the apostle to the apostles. (p.44)
That was then….this is now:
Sister Joan Chittister refers to Mary of Magdala as an important icon for the 21st century:
Mary of Magdala calls women to listen to the call of the Christ over the call of the church.
She calls men to listen for the call of the Christ in the messages of women.
She calls women to courage and men to humility.
She calls all of us to faith and fortitude, to unity and universalism, to a Christianity that rises above sexism, a religion that transcends the idolatry of maleness, and a commitment to the things of God that surmounts every obstacle and surpasses every system. (p.46)
Mary of Magada is a shining light of hope, a disciple of Christ, a model of wholeness for all of us who long for a renewed church. For the early community she was the Face of the Living God, heart burning with the love of Jesus, whose spirit was enlivened and empowered with a love that moved mountains.